Suits and Equipment
Of course, the right equipment, when used properly, makes all the difference when you're diving from outer space. The most important piece of equipment is the suit. Orbital Outfitters has designed a one-piece, airtight jumpsuit with a detachable helmet outfitted with a see-through quartz faceplate. (Gloves and boots are also worn.) A liquid-cooled thermal regulation system runs throughout the suit, which protects the human body against the extreme temperatures of the descent, which can reach 464 degrees Fahrenheit (240 degrees Celsius). All attachment points and openings on the suit are airtight so as not to leak oxygen, which could be a deadly mistake.
On the back of the suit are small, rocket-like gas jets that stabilize the body during the disorienting period of weightlessness in the early part of the space dive. A closed-loop oxygen system circulates through the airtight suit, using chemical scrubbers to remove all carbon dioxide from the recycled air, allowing the oxygen to be recycled for the duration of the dive. More importantly, it eliminates the need for a large air tank -- only a small one strapped onto the diver's back is necessary.
The suit's design also protects against the vacuum of space. The nitrogen found in blood erupts into bubbles at extremely high altitudes (as they do in deep-sea conditions). This is what creates the extremely painful and potentially deadly condition called "the bends." Air becomes depressurized and uninhabitable for humans above 63,000 feet (19,202 meters), so the suit has to be pressurized. Otherwise, the water in blood turns to gas, making the blood feel like it's boiling (and, eventually, causing death).
Other than the ambitious and exciting (or scary) possibilities space diving and its equipment hold for sports, it actually has some practical implications. Those special suits designed by Clark and company could one day be used as a emergency backup for astronauts who need to bail on a malfunctioning aircraft either just inside of or just outside of the Earth's atmosphere. In fact, that was Clark's inspiration. Sadly, his wife was among the astronauts who died in the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia explosion. Further, space tourists could wear Clark's suits for extra safety when going for a ride outside our atmosphere.
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- Dugdale, Addy. "Space Diving Could be the Future for Astronauts and Extreme Dare-Devils." Gizmodo.com. June 27, 2007. (March 15, 2011)http://gizmodo.com/#!272639/space-diving-could-be-the-future-for-astronauts-and-extreme-dare+devils
- Page, Lewis. "Spacesuit entrepreneurs plan parachute jumps from orbit." The Register. June 27, 2007. (March 15, 2011)http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/06/27/cap_troopers_r_go/
- PopSci.com. "High Dive." June 25, 2007. (March 15, 2011)http://www.popsci.com/military-aviation-space/article/2007-06/high-dive